By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
They have heard their instructions. This morning, they will continue listening to closing arguments. And then, the jury in the trial of 69-year-old Lovett “Cid” Chambers, who shot and killed 35-year-old Travis Hood by Morgan Junction Park the night of January 21, 2012, will discuss and decide what they believe to be the truth – was it or was it not a crime?
Wednesday morning’s proceedings were devoted entirely to the lawyers on both sides – defenders Ben Goldsmith and Lauren McLane, prosecutors Maggie Nave and Mari Isaacson – finalizing the instructions that King County Superior Court Judge Theresa B. Doyle read to the jury in the afternoon.
The gallery in Judge Doyle’s courtroom on the eighth floor of the courthouse was close to capacity – around 30 people, including family/friends from both sides.
The defendant was brought back in after lunch; he smiled toward those he knew in the gallery, including his wife Sara Chambers, who testified earlier this week. Goldsmith clapped him on the back; McLane smiled. The high stakes of this final stage of the trial raised the energy and expectancy as much as the increased spectator count did; for most of the six weeks of testimony, the only consistent attendees have been friends of Travis Hood, though other visitors have filtered in and out, including lawyers and law students. With King County’s relatively low homicide rate, and many cases ending with plea agreements, murder trials are not an everyday event.
The jury was not brought in immediately, however. There was more to settle between the attorneys and judge. And it got tense when Goldsmith declared that the prosecution should not be allowed to argue that Chambers “flipped out” over being called “the N-word” or overhearing it.
Nave argued strenuously that they should, and accused Goldsmith of bringing that up at the last minute “to disrupt my closing argument.”
The judge eventually ruled that it could be included in the prosecution’s argument.
Jurors finally were brought in to hear their instructions at about quarter past 2. The 20 or so specific instructions included some as short as one sentence, some longer than a full page. They were reminded that “a defendant is presumed innocent”; that the burden of proof is on the state (prosecution); that they “are the sole judges of the credibility of each witness”; and that the evidence in the trial is what the witnesses testified and what was shown in the exhibits, not what the lawyers said. The instructions also included a mention of Washington’s version of the “stand your ground” law, where someone has no “duty to retreat” in the face of danger. Finally, they were reminded, since this is a criminal case, there is no conviction without a unanimous decision.
At 2:40 pm, Nave began. “You have listened attentively, you have seen (many things),” she said to the jurors, standing in front of the two rows occupied by the eight women and six men (two are alternates and will not participate in deliberations unless one or both has to step in). “You have seen the murder weapon in this case,” she continued, holding up the black Colt .45 identified as Chambers’s gun.
She mentioned other evidence, including the shovel Hood was said to be holding when shot, but did not display it.
“You have heard how Travis Hood died,” and she described the three shots, and where in his body he was hit.
“You’ve also heard from a psychologist” about Chambers, she noted. “But … through all the words that have been spoken these past few weeks, this case can be summed up in one sentence: This is a case about a drunk guy with a gun.”
Nave told the jurors the prosecution has proven “inescapable facts” including that Chambers was “very intoxicated” and armed with a “cocked-and-locked semi-automatic handgun … (and that) he followed Travis Hood for almost 195 feet from the Feedback Lounge up to where (Travis and friend Jamie Vause’s) car was and then confronted him and shot him. He intentionally shot Travis Hood. He intentionally pulled the trigger. He intended to kill him.”
Noting that the jurors had just heard their instructions, read by Judge Doyle, Nave continued, “You have taken a vow. Your job as jurors is a very powerful job – your job is to decide what the facts are. Once you decide (that), you apply them to the law.”
First, though, she observed the difficulty of being a juror: “You have sat here for six weeks, listening. … You haven’t been able to ask any questions … you haven’t been able to talk to anyone” (about the case).
She spoke of the emotions, sympathies, prejudices that are unavoidable for any human, but as jurors, “you have to put them aside.” Even though, as she said, “you might feel sympathy for the victim. He got shot three times, two times in the back. He died! He went out to drink, and he was murdered.”
Or: “You might feel sympathy for the defendant, a man who claims to be a victim of the criminal-justice system … and racism.”
Or: “You might feel prejudice – you might have decided (Hood’s friend Jamie) Vause is a racist.”
But, she exhorted, they must put any and all of that aside.
She used a PowerPoint, just text, to recap some of the instructions before summarizing, “the law protects all of us and holds all of us accountable, and that’s why it’s important to keep your prejudices out of this case.”
She went through the law regarding second-degree murder, and said it does not require premeditation; she then went analog and put up her points on an easel. The prosecution, she said, has proven Chambers “intended to cause the death of Travis Hood,” and the other points required for conviction. Referring to her display as the “to convict” instructions, she noted that they would consider whether Chambers committed “intentional” or “felony” murder.
Going through the points of the law, she noted that Hood died while being assaulted, and was not a participant in a crime. She went through the definition of assault, which had been part of the jury instructions: “Intentional cutting, striking, shooting,” etc. in a “harmful and offensive” way. “There’s no doubt the injury to Travis was harmful and offensive – it killed him. He was shot three times.”
A “deadly weapon” was used, she said, again holding up Chambers’s gun, this time pointed toward the ceiling. “To convict” instructions “tell you what has to be proven and what does not,” she observed.
In addition to the facts of the crime, Nave suggested, “you may have some questions about the motive.”
She listed the witnesses who had testified that they saw some element of the activity surrounding the shooting. She mentioned the bullet casings found at the scene.
“Did anything happen between the defendant and Travis Hood that night” besides the shooting? “You’ve heard (Chambers’s) version. You’ve also heard (Vause’s) version. … Motive is not an element. It is not an element of the events we have to prove. We have to prove what did the defendant do, not why. So let’s talk about the evidence.”
She began with Chambers’s .20 blood-alcohol level as tested five hours after the shooting: “The equivalent of 8.7 standard drinks. Does the size of his drink matter? He says he had five. The toxicologist said 8.7. In terms of his blood-alcohol level, it doesn’t matter if he was drinking out of a ten-gallon hat or a cup, his blood-alcohol level was more than double the legal limit. Was this his standard practice in drinking or a night when he really drank a lot? It doesn’t matter. … This is a guy who spent some part of almost every day in a bar.”
Aside from that number, “do we know how drunk he was?” So drunk, she said, police decided to get a warrant to have his blood drawn. “He was plastered. … What happens when you drink alcohol? Your judgment is impaired, inhibitions loosened … This whole event took place in such a short period of time. (Jamie) Vause said it felt like 30 seconds. Before the incident, the defendant was in the Feedback Lounge, as were (Vause and Hood).”
She recapped Feedback bartenders testifying about Chambers being unhappy that night with being served a martini “in a glass he didn’t like … He was a very particular guy. … He got irritated about” things such as, the lights not being quite right. “He was the kind of person who would tell people exactly where to go.”
So, she said, what happened that night in the bar? Hood and Vause were there for the first time, it had been testified. “We now know they used the ‘N-word’ with an ‘a’ … I’m gonna say it. Nigga. You may not see much distinction, but (it could be offensive to anyone). (Vause) said they used it with each other … they did not intend it to be offensive. They were sitting privately, quietly, in the back part of the bar.”
She held up a diagram with the Feedback’s layout. “At some point the defendant went through the bar, went to the restroom. The back of the bar was not very crowded. Did he hear them using the N-word? Could he have?”
Goldsmith objected repeatedly at this point; the judge overruled him.
Nave continued: “Given the location of the two guys in the bar, using the N-word to each other, a reasonable inference could have been made” that he might have heard them. “Did he? We don’t know. Do we have to prove it? No, we don’t have to prove it.”
Were Hood and Vause drunk? They had said they had a few beers, and wings, Nave recapped. Hood’s blood-alcohol level, taken at the hospital about half an hour after the shooting, was .09, “slightly over the legal limit.” And, she added, they both had smoked some marijuana before going into the bar, though Vause “said they weren’t affected” – they were frequent smokers.
“They left the bar. That’s where the evidence diverges. They started to walk up the street … (Vause) noticed (Chambers) standing next to the door, off to the right.” He had testified, she recounted, that Vause had seen Chambers in the bar, talking to employees, and wondered if he worked there too.
“They walked up the street. (Jamie) started to get ahead of Travis,” who veered down (Beveridge Place, the small street between Feedback and Beveridge Place Pub). Vause called out something like “Hey, nigga,” or “Hey, dawg, where you goin’, the truck’s up this way.”
Pointing to a map, Nave said, “The truck was up here, 195 feet from the door of the Feedback to the truck, facing southbound on California …” Vause got into the truck, and “sat there with the door popped open so Travis could get in … He saw Travis walking up the street with the defendant behind him. He saw Travis turn and say something to the defendant. They were walking in parallel … (They) got to the truck. Travis picked up the shovel and held it in his right hand.” He said something like “back off, motherf—er” or “what you gonna do now?”.
What Nave said next – “This is a self-defense case. You have to acknowledge that people in Washington have the right to defend themselves, and that includes Travis” – led Goldsmith to object so strongly that Nave’s presentation was stopped and the jury sent back to their room.
The defense attorney argued to Judge Doyle that “no basis” had been given for Hood to pick up the shovel – “not a shred of evidence” – so in his view, it was “inappropriate” for the prosecution to “make ‘initial aggressor’ type of arguments.”
The judge said she did not find anything inappropriate so far, as “the state has the right to draw inferences from the evidence.”
At that point, the afternoon break was called; before calling the jury back, all parties agreed to end for the day and pick up again this morning. With each side having been allotted up to two hours, it seems likely the jury will start deliberations before day’s end; they will continue through Friday if needed, though that was a recess day during the testimony phase.
Again today, we expect to publish a short afternoon update, as we’ve done the past few days, most likely when the case goes to the jury.
Trial report, Tuesday 4/1/2014 proceedings (Defense rests)
Trial report, Monday 3/31/2014 proceedings (Defendant testifies)
Trial report, Wednesday 3/26/2014 proceedings (Last day before a 4-day recess)
Trial report, Tuesday 3/25/2014 proceedings (Five defense witnesses)
Trial report, Monday 3/24/2014 proceedings (Cross-examinations dominate the day)
Trial report, Thursday 3/20/2014 proceedings (Defense’s 1st witness continues)
Trial report, Wednesday 3/19/2014 proceedings (Prosecution rests, defense begins)
*(No court Monday-Tuesday 3/17-18 due to illnesses)*
Trial report, Thursday 3/13/2014 proceedings (Prosecution calls final witness)
Trial report, Wednesday 3/12/2014 proceedings (More blood-alcohol-level discussions)
Trial report, Tuesday 3/11/2014 proceedings (Interrogation discussion, autopsy photos)
Trial report, Monday 3/10/2014 (Confrontational video continues)
Trial report, Thursday 3/6/2014 proceedings (Car controversy; Chambers on video)
Trial report, Wednesday 3/5/2014 proceedings (Defense protests surprise, calls for mistrial)
Trial report, Tuesday 3/4/2014 proceedings (‘Police and a passerby’)
Trial report, Monday 3/3/2014 proceedings (‘Back to the background’)
Trial report, Thursday 2/27/2014 proceedings (Jamie Vause’s second day on the stand)
Trial report, Wednesday 2/26/2014 proceedings (Jamie Vause’s first day on the stand)
Trial report, Tuesday 2/25/2014 proceedings (DNA analysis, police)
Trial report, Monday 2/24/2014 proceedings (5 more witnesses)
Trial report, Thursday 2/20/14 proceedings (first witnesses)
Trial report, Wednesday 2/19/14 proceedings (opening statements)